On February 26th, 2019 a special election will be held in New York City to appoint a new Public Advocate.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is a public advocate?
A public advocate is an elected official who serves as a connector between the public and the city government. Whoever is elected to this position represents the interests of New Yorkers by reviewing and investigating complaints about city services. The public advocate is also the second highest ranking official after the mayor. If the mayor is no longer able to carry out the duties of the office, the public advocate is the first in line to take over as mayor.
Why is this position important?
A public advocate serves as a “watchdog” for New Yorkers by surveilling the city government and reporting any concerning issues. As previously stated, a public advocate handles your complaints about city services and makes proposals to address the deficiencies of these services. He/she can introduce legislation, but is a non-voting member of the New York City Council.
Why is there a special election in February for a public advocate?
The special election is being held this February to fill this position that has recently been vacated. This is due to the previous public advocate Letitia James assuming her position as New York Attorney General on January 1st.
How is this election different?
One major difference in this election is that it is nonpartisan, as it is with all special city elections. None of the candidates will appear as Democrat or Republican, nor any other political party. Whoever is elected will hold office only for a few months. A primary and a general election will be held in the fall of this year to determine the candidate who will have this position for the full four-year term.
This election will be the first of 2019. Let’s kick off the new year by going out to vote!
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“Only once I moved to New York had I experienced the privilege of knowing another language. I learned that there are so many countries, cultures, and traditions that make up Latin America. I appreciate DUSA staff because they are patient with me.”
I was extremely nervous when I walked up to the Dominicanos USA table at Catholic Charities. I didn’t know anything about the job. But the most important thing was to be employed. I wanted to get a taste of adulthood. I was excited to register people to vote and surprised to learn how easy filling out the form was. But the hardest thing was to get clients. I never realized how difficult it is to make people care about an integral part of society. Sometimes they just don’t know certain information. Citizens who have lived in America for decades don’t know what state primaries are. I don’t remember many clients only how hard I worked to get them.
One of my biggest challenges is being monolingual. I moved from Georgia to New York the summer before freshman year. Most of the kids in my old school were black or white. There were about 10 Latinos that I knew. I knew learning Spanish would be a good skill to have but didn’t think it would be necessary. One summer I read a book about a girl whose parents were undocumented. The book opened my eyes to the fact that not all Latinos are Mexican. I was ignorant because we only learned about America, the Middle East, and Europe in Social Studies. Only once I moved to New York had I experienced the privilege of knowing another language. I learned that there are so many countries, cultures, and traditions that make up Latin America. I appreciate DUSA staff because they are patient with me. Especially Darleny, Rocio, and Austine. Everyday I come home from work, I’m very exhausted but I still love my job. I love contributing to social change, helping people, and earning money.
***This is a guest post by one of Summer 2018’s Young Voices, Joyce Allen Marks. Interested in donating to Dominicanos USA? Click here!
On the morning of January 20th, 2018, in the heart of New York City, over 200,000 people attended the second annual Women’s March. The demonstrators held signs that came in waves of color as they marched. Etched on these signs were the concerns of many New Yorkers, including issues such as women’s rights, immigrant reform, and racial equality.
Dominicanos USA, in partnership with the League of Women Voters, stood at the outskirts of the Women’s March in New York City, with the goal of registering eligible voters.
The Women’s March did not only represent the shift women want to see in society but also encompassed the various concerns of the people. It ultimately became their platform to speak. From toddlers to senior citizens, the Women’s March became home to a diverse pool of people who united as one, regardless of age, gender, or race.
NOVEMBER 7 GENERAL ELECTIONS WERE CRITICAL FOR DOMINICAN AND LATINO COMMUNITIES
Dominicanos USA has always aimed to engage and empower the Dominican community. In fact, we have been able to register 150,000 people to vote since 2015. This past week we made sure to remind as many people as possible to go out and vote in the 2017 general elections in NYC and other areas. This election season Dominicanos USA sent out 55,000 texts and made 4,500 calls to ensure our people exercise their right to vote. We believe that through voting we can impact our community in a powerful way.
DUSA team calling and texting voters to remind them to participate in the latest elections.
Motivating the community to participate in these local and state elections has allowed our fellow Dominican and Latino politicians to represent us in throughout the U.S., including the first Latinas ever elected as state representatives in Virginia. Electing these Latino officials has greatly contributed to the empowerment of our community and our influence in the American political system. We plan on continuing to encourage our community to keep voting, and therefore make sure our voices are heard.
DUSA team engaging millennials in the electoral process by providing poll site location and reminding them to get out vote.
“The Dominican Parade was a thoughtful experience. It really showed what being a Dominican was all about and the pride we have in our culture and lifestyle. Seeing how many Dominicans were unregistered shows how we could make a change in politics.”
-Jeff Banks, #YoungVoices
It was a busy time at DUSA headquarters this past week as we prepared to say goodbye to our young voices. Our young voices were part of New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Our 60 participants worked four weeks canvassing Manhattan and the Bronx, collecting 1,000+ voter registrations along the way. They also went on field trips to museums and college tours while also attending educational workshops.
On August 10th, DUSA held a dinner recognizing the accomplishments of our young voices. They were given certificates during a festive ceremony at the Alianza Dominicana Cultural Center. Senator Marisol Alcantara, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, and Assemblywoman Carmen de la Rosa were some of the prominent figures who also recognized and congratulated our young voices. They urged our teens to continue to participate in civic engagement and applauded our teens for their dedication this summer. This event highlighted how the Dominican population and culture continue to influence politics in New York City. Many of our teens related to seeing people who look like them in positions of power, and we’re hopeful our teens will continue to be involved in neighborhood issues.
A few days later, on August 13th, DUSA and our young voices celebrated Dominican culture at New York City’s Dominican Day Parade. First, we attended the pre-parade breakfast at La Marina in Washington Heights. The breakfast was filled with Dominican pride, graced by the presence of Hall of Famer baseball pitcher Juan Marichal, who served as the Padrino of the parade. Our teens were excited to meet Dominican Actress Dasha Polanco from the hit television show Orange Is the New Black.
After the breakfast, our dedicated young voices canvassed the parade for voter registrations. We take pride in the fact that Dominicans are the largest Latino group in New York City. DUSA marched alongside fellow Dominican, Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna. She congratulated the accomplishments of our young voices and articulated useful advice for them as well. She reminded our young voices that the reason there is Dominican representation in politics is the dedication of community members like them, who go out their way to register new Latino voters.
As an organization, we are confident that our summer program developed and mentored future leaders who will carry the torch in civic engagement. There is still work to do because teens between the ages of 14 and 21 are the fastest growing population segment among Dominican-Americans. We hope to connect to this group of potential new voters. We are looking forward to next year’s cohort of young voices.
On Tuesday, May 2nd—Voter Day—a coalition of electoral reform activists visited Albany to voice their concerns regarding New York’s antiquated electoral system. Charter buses from Manhattan and the Bronx filled with New Yorkers arrived in Albany to deliver an important message: New York needs to become more voter friendly. Running on the campaign, “Vote Better NY,” NYC Votes and partners—including Dominicanos USA (DUSA), League of Women Voters, and Coalition Z—marched to the Capitol and spoke directly to legislators to improve the electoral system and get more New Yorkers to vote.
Part of DUSA team arriving.
Activists advocated for The Voter Empowerment Act, Early Voting, New York Votes Act, and “Preclearance.” If passed, these legislations would make it the government’s responsibility to ensure all New Yorkers are registered voters, provide same-day Election Day registration, two weeks of in-person early voting, improved poll worker training, and more voter protection. For detailed explanation on the proposed legislation, please click here to view the “Voter Day 2017” factsheet created by NYC Votes.
NYC Votes is the brainchild of the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The campaign promotes civic engagement through community outreach, voter registration and engagement programs, and educational resources.
Several individuals spoke at the “Voting Day” press conference. Onida Coward Mayers, Director of Voter Assistance at New York City Campaign Finance Board, noted that, “Vote Better New York is a coalition from around the state” that wants “a better voting experience and we come to Albany to partner with legislators and to advocate for what we want to see in our election process.”
Director of Voter Assistance Onida Coward Mayers, New York State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh.
When presenting DUSA Executive Director Eddie Cuesta, Coward Mayers stated, “We need to really acknowledge this gentleman, Eddie Cuesta, because he makes sure that he works New York City up and down, making sure that disenfranchised New Yorkers understand their rights and gets them registered.” Since its founding, DUSA has registered close to 150,000 voters. Cuesta stated, “We are here because we have seen the problems that affect our communities, and we are here to support early voting. We know the problem, so we hope we could continue pressuring our state legislators and make sure that New York becomes, as the capital of the World, be number one and not be so antiquated with our voting laws.”
Advocating for early voting, New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins noted, “We have found that if we push them…if enough of us come out…if enough of us understand that elections matter…that things happen in life, that’s why early voting matters.”
Close to two million voting-age New Yorkers are not registered. Although New York ranks third in population size among the 50 states, voter turnout is one of the lowest. Strong proponents of the Voter Empowerment Act, New York State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh called for its enactment. According to Senator Gianaris, “There are over two million New Yorkers who are eligible to vote but are not registered to vote…the reason is because we put a lot of hurdles in their path in order to get registered.” Assembly Member Kavanagh echoed the senator, noting, “We have seen a passive effort to keep the laws
DUSA Executive Director Eddie Cuesta, State Senator Jesse Hamilton, and Director of Voter Assistance Onida Coward Mayers.
weak so that people don’t participate in the election.”
DUSA and NYC Votes.
Other states have modernized their electoral system to reflect the technological advances of the twenty-first century. New York, however, continues to lag behind. Blair Horner, Executive Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group noted, “Too often in the hallways of Albany, it’s about big money and well-connected lobbyists, and when citizens get involved, it makes a big difference.”
Voter Day 2017 provided New Yorkers with the opportunity to speak directly with the senators and assembly members who represent them. NYC Votes and partners met with individual elected officials and staff in their offices. Among the elected officials at hand were Assembly Member Carmen de la Rosa, Assembly Member Michael Benedetto, and State Senator Jesse Hamilton. If passed, the proposed legislation would allow for a smoother electoral process and greater civic participation.